Telecom titan WorldCom Inc. recently unveiled a hosted eCRM (customer relationship management) solution, signalling the carrier’s intent to delve further into the hosted solutions market.

WorldCom’s Web Center is billed as a set of browser-based online customer service tools WorldCom has assembled by burrowing traditional call centre functionality into its massive network.

Using Web Center, enterprises will be able to set up “pay-as-you-go” arrangements for a variety of Web-based services including online collaboration, instant messaging, toll-free calling, voice mail and interactive voice response.

Clinton, Miss.-based WorldCom’s unveiling of Web Center falls just after industry watchers unleashed predictions that the telecoms were the players to watch in the rapidly changing Web hosting space.

Things are getting tougher for smaller hosters and MSPs (managed service providers) as larger players such as Digex Inc. – owned by carrier giant WorldCom – and the telecoms themselves try to capture any enterprise customer interest in hosting, said Paul Santinelli, CEO of NocPulse, an Internet infrastructure company in Sunnyvale, Calif.

“The pole climbers have come off the poles and into the data centres,” Santinelli at the recent Web Hosting Expo trade show held in Washington, D.C.

Said Digex CEO Mark Shull of the hosting market, “We are now in transition as companies struggle to come up with more sophisticated, long-term business models.”

At the crux of those models are enterprise strategies that offer corporations hosted methods for interacting with suppliers and customers.

Also key will be hosted or managed applications that are better integrated with enterprise customers’ backend systems, Shull predicted.